In May of 1945, Nazi Germany officially surrendered to the USSR after years of conflict. This important day is remembered in Russia as Victory Day, a national holiday celebrated to commemorate the surrender of Germany. The surrender brought the end to the Great Patriotic War that occurred from 1941 – 1945. The war claimed approximately 27,000,000 Soviet lives in those few years. To better understand the importance of Victory Day in Russia, we have compiled an outline of the history and how the holiday is recognized today.
The History of Victory Day
Initially, the German Instrument of Surrender was signed on May 7th, 1945. However, the Soviet high command had not fully agreed to the document’s contents and it was signed by a low ranking officer that was not authorized to sign the document. For these reasons, the USSR drafted a second, updated Instrument of Surrender document that was to be signed in Berlin.
The second surrender ceremony was scheduled and held in Berlin during the late hours of May 8th, 1945. Due to the different time zones, it was already May 9th in Moscow by the time the document was signed. Therefore, the end of the war is celebrated on May 9th.
On June 24th, 1945, the first ceremonial Moscow Victory Parade was held to commemorate the surrender and the end of the war. Although the holiday was introduced in most regions between 1946 and 1950, it became a non-labor holiday between 1963 and 1965.
A few days prior to Victory Day, Russian and local leaders gather at memorials and gravesites to present wreaths and flowers. They do this to demonstrate their respect for those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Russian patriotism is at its peak throughout the country on Victory Day. Donning orange and black striped ribbons (known as the St. George Ribbon), crowds of Russian citizens take to the streets to attend one of the many military parades. The largest of which is held in Moscow’s Red Square where Russia’s military is showcased and celebrated. Veterans dress in their military uniforms and pridefully wear their medals as Russian citizens present them with red carnations in appreciation for their service and sacrifice.
Songs and Symbols
There are three primary symbols on Victory Day in Russia. First, red carnations symbolize the color of the Soviet flag that the veterans fought under. Presenting an even number of red carnations at a memorial site symbolizes mourning and remembrance.
Presented as a distinction from the military for bravery, a Red Star Medal is highly respected.
Finally, the St. George Ribbon is likely one of the better-known of all three symbols. Russians wear the black-and-yellow ribbon as a sign of remembrance and respect.
“Священная война” (Sacred War)
“День Победы” (Victory Day)
Even though Victory Day is a day for remembrance, mourning and ceremony, it is important to recognize that it is considered by many to be one of Russia’s most significant and emotional holidays.
It is said that there was not a single Russian family that was spared by the effects of the World War II conflict, which further emphasizes the importance of the recognition of Victory Day’s meaning for all Russian people.